FDA guides food establishments through menu labeling maze

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09 Nov 2017 --- The US Food and Drug Administration has drafted a guidance document to help food businesses navigate the complexities of the new menu labeling regulations which will come into force next May. The eating-out sector and other businesses that sell food and will be subject to the new laws have previously expressed concern over what they need to do to comply with menu labeling rules. 

Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home. Making calorie information available on restaurant menus, grab-and-go food and others, will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families, says the Administration.

Posting calories on menus and menu boards as well as providing other nutrient information in writing will provide consumers with clear and consistent nutrition information in a direct and accessible manner for the foods they buy – at least that is the plan.

However, the US food sector is very complex and there is a wide range of ways food and beverages are sold in the eating-out sector – and this can affect how nutritional information is displayed. 

For instance, supermarket and convenience stores with self-service buffets or beverage stations are concerned whether they needed to have an individual sign next to each item with a calorie declaration. While other store owners have asked the FDA whether posters, billboards, coupon mailings, and other marketing materials would meet the government’s definition of a menu that would be required to include calorie information.

Meanwhile, pizza delivery chain owners have told the FDA they were struggling to develop menu boards reflecting the thousands of topping combinations people might want on their pizza.

In the new draft guidance, the FDA says it provides information and several new examples for how businesses can comply with the law.

“As a whole, this draft guidance reflects our commitment to establishing a practical and sustainable framework for implementing the new menu labeling provisions,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

“With these resources, we believe covered establishments are well positioned to implement the requirements by the May 7, 2018, compliance date. That said, we continue to welcome feedback from stakeholders that may help further improve this Guidance and look forward to working with them as we finalize this guidance for the benefit of the public health.”

“Over the next several months, we will continue to partner with restaurants and similar retail food establishments through each step in the implementation process and look forward to May, when consumers will have access to clear, consistent calorie information on the menus in their favorite chain restaurants and food establishments.”

Responding to the provision of guidance from the FDA, Vice President for Nutrition Margo G Wootan at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, welcomed the move.

“With the draft guidance it issued, the Food and Drug Administration has answered industry questions about how to comply with the menu labeling rule. Supermarkets, convenience stores, movie theaters and restaurants should have the answers they need in time to post nutrition information before next May, as the administration has promised,” she said.

“This is an important and necessary step forward. Consumers need and want calorie information when they eat out and this is a positive sign that FDA will work with industry to give consumers that information.”

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